Ezidi survivor gets justice: Her Daesh rapist sentenced to death by an Iraqi court

3/4/2020 3:17:43 PM

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Dr. Amy L. Beam
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Ashwaq Haji Hamid Talo, a 20-year-old Ezidi survivor of Daesh (ISIS) rape, got the justice she was seeking in Baghdad court on March 2, 2020.  Her Iraqi rapist, 36-year-old Muhammed Rashid Sahab, acknowledged his guilt on three counts:  murdering a taxi driver in 2003, raping Ashwaq in 2014, and joining the terrorist organization of Daesh.  The court sentenced him to death by hanging.   Ashwaq Haji is the first Ezidi woman to accuse her ISIS rapist in court. 

On August 3, 2014, Daesh attacked the Ezidi homeland of Shingal, northern Iraq.  Approximately 400,000 Ezidis were forced to flee in a matter of hours.  Daesh captured 77 members of Ashwaq Haji's extended family in their hometown of Khanasor.  Ashwaq was held prisoner for nearly three months until escaping by putting sleeping pills in her captors' food.  Thirty-nine of her extended family members are still missing.


The Investigation

After reporting the crime to German police and moving back to Iraq, Ashwaq was invited to Baghdad six times by the investigative court to give details of her story.  On three separate occasions, she was asked to identify her rapist in a lineup with different men.  Each time, she picked him out of the lineup.  

In March and again in August 2019, Ashwaq was invited to a private court hearing in Baghdad to face her Daesh rapist.  These meetings with her rapist were filmed. Ashwaq gave police her approval to video her meeting with Muhammed whom she also knew as Abu Hummam.  "Why did you rape me?"  She demanded.  He hung his head.  "Look at me.  I was only fourteen years old.  Don't you have a sister or daughter?"  It was an emotional ordeal for Ashwaq who fainted after two minutes.  Three months later, she gave permission to the court to show the video.


The Trial

The year of investigation culminated with the presentation of evidence at the trial.  Presiding Judge Haider Jalil Beyrawi referred to his notes and stated the findings of their year-long investigation in a strong, clear voice.  He methodically asked Ashwaq to tell her story.  This was not a process of asking a question to which she simply answered "yes" or "no."  Indeed, Ashwaq needed little prompting to launch into exhaustive explanations of her experience as a prisoner of Daesh.

The court clerk sat below the judges' elevated dais, transcribing the proceedings in Arabic.  As she typed, her computer screen was projected on a large flat screen over the heads of the judges for all in the courtroom to read.  The court proceedings were also filmed.

The court had conducted an exhaustive and lengthy investigation, which culminated in an impeccably fair trial.  Ashwaq stood and testified in a strong and confident voice for nearly ninety minutes.  She was animated and she gestured while telling her story of captivity. 

The police and judges who investigated this case are to be congratulated on their thorough job of collecting evidence and organizing it for the trial.  This trial reached the highest standard of the Nuremburg trials that held the Nazis accountable for the Jewish Holocaust of World War II. 

Three judges in the Karkh Criminal Court conducted the trial.  Chief Judge Haider Jalil Beyrawi, with 23 years of experience on the bench, methodically walked Ashwaq through her testimony from the time she was captured by Daesh on August 3, 2014, until the day she escaped on October 22, 2014.  The other judges, each with twelve years' experience on the bench, were Amar Rashid al-Hayali and Haider Naji al-Zubaidi. 

The court procedures in Iraq are different than those in western countries.  The chief judge, not the prosecutor or defense lawyers, does the questioning.  Ashwaq, herself, did not have a lawyer.   After all testimony was heard, the judge asked both Ashwaq and the defendant if they wanted to say anything else.  Both declined.  The lawyers for the defense and prosecution then read brief statements.  After a thirty-minute adjournment, the final verdict of death was read aloud.


Ashwaq's Testimony

When Daesh entered Ashwaq's town of Khanasor, Daesh gave her father 24 hours to convince those who had escaped to the mountain to return.  He declined.  During the night they tried to escape in their cars, but were prevented by Daesh.  The next day Daesh gave them the choice to convert to Islam or be killed.  They then put them in buses and took them to Syria where the men were separated from the women and children.  They were forced to recite the Quranic verse used to convert to Islam and instructed to pray three times a day.  She was also given black clothes to change into.

After being moved to Mosul then Baaj, Ashwaq was separated from her mother and given as a gift to Muhammed Rashid who had been injured by a sniper after Daesh took control of Sinjar city.  She was taken to Rambousi, Shingal, to live with Muhammed.  Muhammed asked her to marry him and she refused.  After raping her, he took her to a Daesh court which conducted a forced marriage.  Many other Ezidi girls were also forcibly married in that court.  Ashwaq testified that she was raped twice every day by Muhammed.  Other girls were living in the same house, also being raped by Daesh fighters who visited.   She escaped on October 22, 2014, after being held nearly three months. 

Four sisters and three cousins of Ashwaq were also captured.  They were sold for $200 each, brought to Syria, and raped.  One sister is still missing. 


Germany Confrontation with Her Rapist

In 2015, Ashwaq was one of 1,100 Yezidi women and children who went to Badden-Wurttenburg, Germany, on a special therapy program for survivors of Daesh captivity and rape.  She was living near Stuttgart.  In December 2016, she saw Muhammed Rashid Sahab who followed her home.  Others convinced her not to worry and suggested it might not have been him.  But fourteen months later, on February 21, 2018, Muhammed approached her on the sidewalk and called her by her name of Ashwaq and also by the name he used to call her when she was his prisoner in Iraq. 

She reported the incident to the police who met with her several times to collect information.  They even sent a sketch artist.  At that time, German police told her that, although they believed her, they were unable to do anything to Muhammed since he had not committed a crime in Germany. 

According to Ashwaq, Dr. Jon Kizalhan, the German Ezidi psychologist who created the German program for Ezidi survivors, repeatedly urged her to drop her accusations.  He tried to convince her that her rapist was dead and she should focus on her future.  Kizalhan was quoted by journalists as suggesting that Ashwaq was so traumatized that she mistakenly imagined she had seen her rapist in Germany. 

As a result of this reporting, Ashwaq endured being called a liar on social media by a large proportion of the Ezidi population world-wide.  What woman, let alone a seventeen-year-old rape and genocide survivor, could withstand such an onslaught of attacks without crumbling and breaking?  But Ashwaq was sure she had seen her rapist in Germany.


Muhammed Rashid Sahab - The Condemned Rapist

Fearing for her safety, Ashwaq returned to live with her father and grandmother in their tent in the Kurdistan Region.  Eleven months after Ashwaq reported Muhammed to German police, she received a call from Iraqi intelligence police.  They sent her two photographs and asked if this were the man who had captured and raped her.  She stated that she started trembling when she saw the photos.  Yes, it was definitely him.

He had been captured on the Iraqi border with Syria and taken to Baghdad.  In 2003, at age 19, Muhammed had been sentenced to prison for killing a taxi driver along with his brother and cousin.  They stabbed the driver in his neck and stole his car.  When Daesh took control of Mosul on June 9, 2014, they released all the prisoners from Badoosh prison.  Muhammed was one of them.  Daesh let the Sunni Arabs go free and killed approximately 700 Shias and non-Muslims.  At that time, Muhammed went first to a mosque, then joined Daesh.  He testified that his job was to teach the Quran and that he participated in the attack on Shingal.

He also testified that the Islamic State told the Daesh members that according to the Quran it was allowed for them to have Ezidi slaves and to rape them whether or not they agreed to marriage.  Each fighter was given an Ezidi girl as a gift.  When the judge asked him if he thought he was guilty of the charges against him, he answered yes.


Justice for Ezidis Possible in Iraqi Courts

After two hours of presenting evidence, the court sentenced Muhammed Rashid Sahab to death by hanging. 

Ashwaq hopes that by pursuing her case against her Daesh rapist, that she will give courage to other Ezidi women to bring their Daesh rapists to court.  "There are hundreds of other Ezidis who know the real names of their rapists but are afraid to accuse them," says Ashwaq.

The Chief Justice, also, urged Ezidis to come forward with names so Daesh members can be brought to justice.

Ashwaq hopes the execution will be videoed.  "What happened to Saddam Hussein," she says, "is what I want to happen to Muhammed.  I want the whole world to see it and to know what Daesh did to Ezidi girls."


Controversy over Human Rights' Standards for Conviction

Courts in both Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region have sentenced thousands of Daesh members to long prison terms or death since Daesh took control of Mosul and nearly one-third of Iraqi territory in 2014. 

In Kurdistan, many Ezidis reported the names of Daesh criminals to the Region’s police only to see them questioned and then released.  Police stated they did not have evidence or eye witnesses to hold the accused.  Ezidis complain bitterly that Daesh criminals shaved their beards and are living freely in Mosul and Kurdistan.

A recent Human Rights Watch Report criticized the Iraqi courts for sentencing prisoners to long prison terms or death simply on the basis of being associated with Daesh, a terrorist organization.  The report accused the courts of sentencing prisoners without presenting evidence of individual crimes.  The report stated it was not sufficient to accuse someone of being associated with a terrorist organization.  It recommended that the court should provide evidence of individual crimes.

Yet the international community and Human Rights Watch have turned a blind eye to Turkey's campaign of deadly airstrikes against PKK who are on Turkey's and America's terrorist list. . . . no trials needed.  These airstrikes include five strikes since October 2019 in Shingal, killing Ezidis.  The PKK were instrumental in saving the Ezidis from Daesh.

Daesh is considered to be a terrorist organization, so proving membership in Daesh should be sufficient evidence of guilt.  Daesh proclaimed its intent to destroy the Ezidi ethno-religious community.  The evidence lies in the mass graves of Ezidis strewn throughout Shingal.  Witnesses are mostly dead or missing. 

Clearly, different and inconsistent standards for proving guilt are being called for by human rights groups. 


Dr. Amy L. Beam is a human rights activist and author of "The Last Yezidi Genocide."  She accompanied Ashwaq to court on March 2.  Email: amybeam@yahoo.com.  Facebook: amyLbeam


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and or those quoted and do not necessarily reflect those of NRT.